New behavioral health hospital opens in Mass.

By Eileen Weber
December 4th, 2023
Mark Keroack, M.D., MPH, president and CEO of Baystate Health
Mark Keroack, M.D., MPH, president and CEO of Baystate Health

Valley Springs Behavioral Health Hospital opened its doors late this summer to treat children, adolescent, and adult patients with addiction and other mental and behavioral health issues.

Costing $72 million, the more than 22,000 square foot facility is furnished with 150 private and semi-private rooms along with clinical spaces, community areas, outdoor courtyards, and rooms for art therapy and occupational therapy.

Valley Springs operates in partnership with Baystate Health and Tennessee-based Lifepoint Health.

Mark Keroack, M.D., MPH, president and CEO of Baystate Health, said there was good reason to build the facility in Holyoke, about two hours outside of Boston. Western Massachusetts was critically “under bedded.” Valley Springs gave behavioral health patients, who may potentially stay at a facility for several days, a way to get out of their home situation without having to drive a long distance.

“Behavioral healthcare was chronically under resourced [and] things got worse during the pandemic,” he said. “There’s been an increasing effort to get people placed and expand community resources.”

He said behavioral patients should have a contemporary healing environment that feels like a residence and not a hospital. The emphasis should be on activity rather than staring at a hospital wall. “That’s something you can do with a stand-alone building instead of a unit that’s part of a hospital,” Keroack said.

Barry Sarvet, M.D., the Harold Grinspoon Endowed Chair of Psychiatry at Baystate Health

In agreement with Keroack’s statements are Barry Sarvet, M.D., the Harold Grinspoon Endowed Chair of Psychiatry at Baystate Health, and Maria Russo-Appel, M.D., Medical Director for Valley Springs Behavioral Hospital.

Sarvet and Russo-Appel both talked about the lack of beds being the largest hurdle in getting effective behavioral healthcare and said a healing environment makes a difference in how well a patient will respond and recover.

“I want to stress this: wellness is a complex path that involves more than just medication and containment,” explained Russo-Appel. “It’s nutrition. It’s exercise. It’s motivational interviewing and trauma-informed care. Wellness is a whole strategy instead of here’s your meds and a room and we’ll see you in a week.”

According to Sarvet, it is about comfort and quality in terms of the effectiveness of the treatment. An adequate space full of light provides a more comfortable experience. The location in Holyoke was feeding an area hungry for such a facility.

“Patients don’t like being shipped off to Boston,” he said. “They don’t have access to their family. It can make it really difficult. We had hospital units in the area but there weren’t enough beds and it’s not like they have a lot of beds in Boston either. That led to boarding for days, weeks, sometimes months.”

Sarvet said Valley Springs essentially increases the bed space by 50 percent. It currently has 150 beds of which 20 are for acute patients and 30 are cared for by the Department of Mental Health.

They will still maintain about 50 beds in area hospitals. But the remainder of beds meant for behavioral healthcare in hospital units will be repurposed for more immediate and primary care issues. By having this increase in beds available, emergency room boarding becomes less of a chronic problem and that was precisely the point, said Russo-Appel.

“That’s the goal, to offset ED boarding,” she said. “People often get fragmented care but here we have in-patient care, a partial hospital program, and an outpatient program. It’s a one-stop shop. We eventually plan on taking walk-ins. We already have our child, adolescent, and adult programs open. We will probably have our geriatric program ready by the second week in December. From five to 105, we’ll go all the way through the life cycle.”

Sarvet said the reason for partnering with Lifepoint to build Valley Springs was part of a greater modernization in psychiatric care. “We needed help in that part of the industry that they had expertise in and could joint finance the model,” he said. “Hospitals, in general, are doing more joint venture to share the capital expenses.”

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